Biparty Women’s Caucus rallies to push for change after thousands of Connecticut nursing home deaths

HARTFORD – In response to the deaths of approximately 2,500 nursing home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus of the Connecticut State Legislature is calling for change in the industry, at the Department of State Public Health and the Governor’s Office in an effort to prevent a second wave from once again ravaging this population.

Although Governor Ned Lamont issued a request for proposals for an independent contractor to complete a review of procedures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in nursing homes and assisted living facilities last week, the caucus is asking that the review encompasses much more.

“We request that the independent review examine not only the preparedness and response of the nursing home industry to a pandemic, but also the preparedness and response of state agencies to a pandemic.” said Representative Dorinda Borer of West Haven, Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus. “We believe this allows for a full and honest assessment.”

Among other things, the caucus is asking that the review examine when and how nursing homes were inspected, isolation procedures for residents admitted with COVID-19, the use and provision of personal protective equipment, how additional state and federal COVID funds were used and the penalties for breaches and violations cited during COVID-19.

“We can come together and work together to get things done. It is a problem that cuts across party lines. We have members on both sides of the aisle who have raised issues that need to be addressed, ”said Representative Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck, Women’s Caucus Co-Chair. “We need to know what happened, what worked and what didn’t. What was the chain of command and how can we improve it? We have to ask ourselves what was known, what has been done and what needs to be done for future pandemics. It is not over yet, we need to muster the knowledge and support that is absolutely necessary for these special workers. We need to make sure our loved ones and our constituents are safe. “

Lamont, who attended the caucus press conference on Tuesday on the north steps of the Capitol, assured those gathered that the see again consider both government and industry responses.

“We’re a state where you’re much more likely to be in a nursing home – the sixth most likely state for a person to be in a nursing home – and that’s why we’ve investigated these. nursing homes, physically investigated them several times, ”Lamont mentioned. “That’s why we’re doing this study, so that if there’s a second wave, we’ll do it.”

Lamont said the review will look at the qualities that define the 20 percent of nursing homes that have had no cases and what qualities are shared by the institutions, such as Apple Rehab Saybrook, where a majority of residents contracted the disease.

A reporting failure

One thing that is certain before the study even begins – as Representative Michelle Cook of Torrington and a member of the Women’s Caucus explained through a personal story – part of the problem has been the lack of communication and reporting. from nursing homes to families. residents and the state.

“In the retirement home where my father-in-law was, there were 160 beds and 127 cases. They had 41 deaths, not counting my stepfather, and not counting Patty, a dedicated employee who lost her life to COVID, “said Cook.

Currently, nursing homes do not need to notify families that an infectious disease is spreading in a facility.

Cook’s stepfather, William Cook, died on April 2.

As of April 21, the Litchfield Woods health care center, where Cook’s stepfather resided, did not confirm a single case of COVID at the facility, according to voters who spoke with Cook.

“That’s why I called for a statewide investigation of all nursing homes in the state. That’s why, an incredible group of women parliamentarians have started working on this issue, ”Cook said. “We also recognize that this investigation is not the end of resolving the nursing home crisis, but just the beginning.”

In an emailed statement to CT Examiner, Athena Health Care Systems spokesperson Tim Brown responded to Cook’s claim, writing that “Litchfield Wood’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 has was announced on April 2, 2020. The center has not had any cases before, by the center and the local health district, as has been wrongly reported in the past. As soon as we were notified, we contacted our families, notified our staff, and implemented our COVID-19 protocols.

Beyond the pandemic

According to the assembled lawmakers, their concerns extend far beyond the pandemic to how violations and deficiencies in nursing homes are cited and the lack of sanctions when they are.

“Every time we say why [the nursing home operators in violation] have a financial impact, [the department of public health] say that is not part of what the protocol is for this particular issue, ”said Representative Catherine Abercrombie of Meriden. “If 10 people get the flu – let’s not even talk about the pandemic – it should have a financial impact.”

According to Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Association of Healthcare Facilities of Connecticut, nursing homes received significant financial penalties before and during COVID-19.

“The idea that there are no large fines is a misunderstanding that I do not understand.” Nursing homes have been fined and will receive more, Barrett said. “I think the review will show that Connecticut nursing homes have been the subject of the most extensive surveillance in the country.”

Barrett said the nursing homes he represents all welcome the governor’s review and believe it will help tell a full story that understands how hard the nursing homes have worked to keep residents and the community safe. staff.

“A lot of nursing facilities have done everything right, but perform poorly,” Barrett said. “The real bad character here is the virus.”

Most inspections in the past were self-reported, not surprise inspections as they are now, New Haven representative Toni Walker said.

“It has to stop, we have to always have our eyes on the pitch,” Walker said. “The whole system is over $ 1.2 billion in the budget, we have 213 nursing homes, it’s a big part of our society that hasn’t been very well regulated. We need to change that and fix it to protect our families who live or work there. It is multifaceted and we have neglected it and we can no longer neglect it.

At this point, Abercrombie said, the goal is to get more citations to result in fines.

The point of view, Walker said, must be longer term, beyond the pandemic. When the current regime of surprise inspections conducted by the National Guard ends with the state of emergency, Walker said others must take on this role.

“We need to look at how we’ve handled this, it’s a big part of our budget and we need to complete the investment,” Walker said. “We cannot make a surface investment.”

As the state shuts down all five COVID-19-only recovery centers, the importance of making nursing homes safer becomes even more important, Abercrombie said.

“We have to ask ourselves if there should be a special set of laws and statutes for a pandemic, such as those that suspend the right to return to a nursing home if you are HIV positive with the disease,” Abercrombie said.

This story has been updated to include comments from Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Association of Health Care Facilities of Connecticut and Athena Health Care Systems spokesperson Tim Brown.

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